Theresa May refuses to roll back 'hostile environment' policy despite calls from her own home secretary

Exclusive: Prime minister speaks out against new softer approach to immigration

Windrush scandal: What you need to know

Theresa May has refused to roll back her controversial “hostile environment” crackdown following the Windrush scandal, despite her own home secretary’s call for change.

Speaking to The Independent on her trip to the G7 summit, the prime minister rejected – three times – calls for a rethink on policies to curb illegal immigration, which have trapped British citizens.

Instead, she insisted she had the public’s backing for measures which have turned employers, landlords, the NHS and banks into “de facto border guards”, required to make immigration checks.

​Sajid Javid, the new home secretary, announced a rethink after members of the Windrush generation swept up by the policy were denied jobs and healthcare, and even detained or deported.

He rejected Ms May’s phrase “hostile environment” as a “non-British term” and said: “I’m going to look at how it’s been implemented. I want to review aspects of the policy.”

But the prime minister told The Independent that the crackdown would continue, arguing all that was required was it for to be carried out more carefully so people were not “mistakenly caught up”.

“If you talk to members of the public, what they want to know is that we are dealing with people who come to the country illegally,” she said.

“And that’s why it’s important that we are still able to continue to take measures to identify them and do just that.”

Pressed on whether that would be any policy changes, Ms May replied: “We need to ensure that we keep measures in place that enable us to deal with those people who come to the UK illegally.

“But we do need to ensure that, as we are doing that – as we are applying those measures – we don’t see people inadvertently caught up in that who are British, and who have the legal right to be in the United Kingdom.”

She added that the Home Office was focused on helping the Windrush generation obtain the documents they needed to secure British citizenship which was “open to them”.

Mr Javid had vowed to introduce a “fairer, more compassionate immigration system”, as anger continues to rage over the plight of people who arrived in Britain many decades ago.

There are also fears that the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK will be affected when they are required to prove their right to be in the country after Brexit.

“Because I am new to the job, I hope to use it as an advantage to bring a fresh set of eyes to what happened, what went wrong in these cases – because, obviously, something massively went wrong,” Mr Javid said last weekend.

More than 60 people have been deported, he revealed last month, and the Home Office is still trying to establish how many were wrongly detained.

Doctors say people are being denied urgent treatment, after hospitals were put under a legal duty to seek money upfront from patients unable to prove they are eligible for free care.

And the government is facing a legal challenge over the “right to rent” scheme obliging landlords to check the immigration status of all would-be tenants – which campaigners say provokes widespread discrimination.

Half of landlords told the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) that they were now less likely to consider renting to non-EU nationals – while 42 per cent were less likely to rent to those without a UK passport.

Ms May did not respond to The Independent asking if she believed this scheme was working “satisfactorily”.

Mr Javid has already put a stop to one aspect of the hostile environment: suspending bank checks to close the accounts of illegal migrants, in order to force them to leave the country.

And the Home Office was forced to tighten rules allowing the NHS to share patients’ details in order for officials to carry out immigration raids, after a Commons revolt.

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the JCWI, said: “The policies require more than just a change in their name. The hostility is very real, and it’s consequences are very real for many, many people in Britain.

“What the Windrush scandal shows us that the government cannot indefinitely assume that it has the public support for an increasingly cruel and twisted series of policies, that are divorced form evidence and are almost divorced from the rule of law.”

He added: “Windrush shows us that as soon as people see the human face of immigration, as soon as people see who the people at the end of these policies are, that support dries up very quickly.

“The prime minister is clutching at straws.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, told The Independent: “The Windrush scandal was not an accident, but a direct consequence of Theresa May’s “hostile environment" policy.

"As the architect of this policy the Prime Minister knew exactly what was happening. But nothing was to stand in the way of her ill-conceived, but never achieved, migration targets.

"The new Home Secretary has already u-turned on elements of the policy. But it now looks like Theresa May has overruled him to maintain her inhumane approach that has led to detention and deportation of our own citizens. It's time this Tory Government put an end to the “hostile environment” for good."

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